From: Santa Cruz Sentinel – Monday, April 21, 1997
Nothin‘ But the Net – Chris Watson
He doesn’t drive a care and he can’t change the ribbon in his typewriter, but boy can Earl Jackson, Jr. whip up some mean HTML.
It was the language aspects of HTML-coded Web pages that initially attracted the attention of Jackson, an associate professor of Literature and Japanese Studies at UC Santa Cruz.
„I could tell that HTML was like any other language. You can see the syntax in it.“ Jackson said recently. Jackson, who earned his undergraduate degree in German also has three Masters Degrees and a Ph.d in Comparative Literature.
His interest in the communcative powers of the Internet escalated lst year, he said, when he conducted an email-experiment with students in his Hysteria and Paranoia literature class.
„We bonded so well and developed such psycho-dramas, I knew I needed a way to archive and cross-reference all this material.“ It seemed natural to consider using the new technology as an adjunct to his classes.
Today, Jackson creates the graphics, designs and maintains dedicated Web sites for each of his classes. Each site expands weekly, incorporating student work and dialogues among the students as well as teacher-student conferences. Each site begins with a fully hypertexted syllabus that includes animations and even will download some of the assigned readings directly into the student’s computer by clicking on the title. The sites are in turn cross-referenced and hyperlinked the other courses. This year, he is teaching „Hysteria and Paranoia“ again, and one of his star students from the original class (Paul Bauman, now living in New York City, reads the new Web site and sends his comments on them and reviews his own memories of the original course. Dialogues from the class of two years ago are also interwoven with the dialogues of the present class.
Jackson maintains that the Web Sites are enhancements to a course, but that they do not significantly affect the classroom experience. Live teaching and learning (or, as Jackson calls it, „the slowtime interface“ remains central. Nevertheless, because of the integration of the technology into the mechanics of the course, even the most technophobic student has to come to terms with the ‚Net, and in most cases, they are happy that they were nudged into that encounter.
Who wouldn’t get a kick out of seeing their electronic homework illustrated and annotated by the teacher for all to see and appreciate on the Web?
A self-described obsessive-compulsive, Jackson enjoys the hours of work it takes to link student electronic responses to each other as well as to other online sources within and without his class Web pages. He also links student responses in a conceptual map to convey the semblance of a real conversation. He believes profoundly in the need to profile the work of his students.
„Publishing their work confirms them in their intellect. When a student does something extraordinary, I stop and make sure that it gets showcased properly.“
A teacher through and through, Jackson is the author of College Connections Web Resources published by Lycos Press in conjunction with Ziff Davis Press. The book is dedicated to helping students, parents, and counsellors through the colllege application process as well as educating college students (and instructors) to the best online resources available. He even includes a chapter for instructors, giving them a step-by-step breakdown of how he developed and used a Web site for his „Detective Fictions“ class. And he loaded a full version of the Detective Fictions Web site onto the cross-platform CD included with the book.
In an essay available on his Fantasy Campus online column, Jackson underscores his philosophy of education: „The University doesn’t have to be a fortress of eggheads behind ivy covered walls. . . . I’m interested in demonstrating how the Internet has helped turn those ivy-covered walls into windows (pun intended) – or interfaces . . . Learning and the love of learning are not – and have never been – confined to the campus grounds.“
Jackson decided to write the book, he said, to show that „the Net is neither a monster nor a miracle. It’s just a way to connect people.“
And he’s found another use for the Web as well, although the circumstances were less than fortunate.
Last fall around dusk, Jackson ran smack dab into a steel door on campus. He awoke in a pool of blood but came to, believing he had suffered nothing more than a concussion. His efficiency began to slip dramatically, however, and he even began to fall asleep in the middle of class while teaching, or forget exactly why he was in front a large number of young people talking about Dashiell Hammett. The doctors found a major traumatic brain injury which required Jackson take a medical leave in winter quarter.
Even there, however, the Web came in. He arranged to meet with the instructor who took over teaching his Science Fiction, and Jackson, at home in San Francisco, designed and ran a new Web site for the course, and even created a series of Web exercises for students he would never meet in person. But that was only one new use.
His injury manifested in a variety of temporary aphasias and narcolepsy, so he decided to educate himself on what was happening, and discovered an amazing wealth of information on such injuries as well national and international networks of people who have sustained similar injuries, their health care providers, and their supportive circles. This was of immense help to him in assessing what could be done, and in supplementing the information from his own doctors. And the benefits of the ‚Net didn’t end there.
Some of his aphasias were disturbances in making everyday associations. And because the Web is completely made up of links, Jackson found that surfing the Net during times of greatest disassociations, helped him make reconnections among concepts, and between concepts and images, that had become broken links.
On top of this, Jackson discovered yet another outlet for his unflagging online energy – digital art.
„I’m going to be a featured artist in an electronic show on May 6 at Cal State Northridge. The piece [Orvieto . . . Seneca ] I’ve created leads the viewer through a dreamscape into an ancient Etruscan grave, which has a kind of peep show architecture. There are four openings in the top of the structure, just wide enough to give the viewer glimpses of figures somewhere in the distance, in apparently sexual situations.The openings are what I call „soft portals,“ they change their size and shape if the cursor pulls on them, but also all the objects in the rooms are secretly coded so that when touched, they send the figures of one room into another room. Between the shape shifting windows and the wandering rooms, the viewer gets caught up in pursuing the figures, which ultimately forces the viewer to confront her or his own voyeurism. The screen won’t let you pretend otherwise.“
It’s art to keep us honest.
It’s technology to bookmark out path lest we forget where we were going.
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